The Mississippi Senate unanimously passed House Bill 366, also called the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, with no changes from the House version.
The bill will now move to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk to be signed into law.
“I look forward to signing it at my earliest opportunity,” Bryant said in a statement.
The measure will allow Mississippi’s 25 electric cooperatives to form subsidiaries to offer broadband internet service, removing a ban on the member-owned utilities getting into other businesses.
“We are thankful to the House and Senate for passing this bill so quickly,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said. “Access to high speed internet is crucial for our farmers, ranchers and rural residents to live and do their jobs effectively. This measure will definitely help with that.”
The measure requires a feasibility study and an annual audit. Cooperatives could invest money, loan money or guarantee loans to affiliates, but the bill says they can’t use revenue from electric sales to subsidize broadband.
The measure is sponsored by House Speaker Philip Gunn. It got the early-session push that he gives to some of his priorities, aided by an April 29 deadline for cooperatives to apply for $200 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to extend service to rural areas.
The USDA will take applications for another $200 million in loans and grants by May 29 and $200 million in low-interest loans by June 28. Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Sally Doty said the deadline meant lawmakers needed to hurry, so interested cooperatives could submit applications. The law will take effect as soon as Bryant signs it.